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Classic Northern Historical Circuit

Most visitors to Ethiopia are drawn to the Northern Historical Circuit & quite rightly so as it is a treasure trove of cultural sights with a backdrop of spectacular mountain scenery. This holiday takes in the full spectrum of cultural highlights at Lake Tana, Gondar, Lailbela, Axum & the Tigray Region and caters for non-trekkers with a couple of gentle days in the Simien Mountains.

Tailor-made 2 weeks

'From Price' is the average price per person for ground arrangements for two people sharing.

Flights are typically an additional $716 per person economy class from London

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Itinerary

Overview

  • Visit the Island monasteries of Lake Tana & the source of the Nile
  • Marvel at Lalibela's remote rock hewn churches
  • Gentle day walks in the stunning Simien Mountains
  • Explore medieval Gondar, a Unesco World Heritage Site
  • Wonder at the vertigo inducing monasteries of the Tigray Region
  • Domestic flights, comfortable hotels and local guides throughout

Ethiopia plays host to a fascinating and varied history and wears it on its sleeve throughout the North of the country. From the Island monasteries of Bahir Dar to the ancient stelae in Axum, the medieval castles in Gondar and the rock hewn churches of Lalibela the region is over-spilling with UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The region is so much more than a collection of historical sites though. What threads them all together is a series of fascinating stories interwoven with a rich and colourful orthodox Christian religion and incredible natural scenery. This holiday is a comprehensive cultural tour of these highlights and has been designed for you to visit at a slightly more relaxed pace, rather than rushing from sight to sight.

Your cultural odyssey begins in Ethiopia's capital, Addis. You don't need much time there, we recommend an afternoon is sufficient, before heading to Bahir Dar. There, you will visit the impressive Blue Nile falls and then cruise Lake Tana, Ethiopia's largest and highest lake, which is also the source of the Nile. The Lake is also famous for its ancient monasteries, which are dotted along its shores and on its islands. Dating back to the Gondarine period, they offer the perfect introduction to Ethiopia's orthodox Christian heritage.

Your next stop is Gondar, a medieval town home with well preserved royal compound, Fasilidas Bath and the Debre Berhan Selassie Church, renowned for its vivid and striking interior art. As a contrast to the cultural and historical focus we then recommend including a three day stay at the comfortable Simien Lodge, from where you explore the stunning scenery and wildlife of the Simien Mountains with a choice of day walks / drives to prominent view-points and wildlife viewing spots.

Returning briefly to Gondar, you then proceed to Lalibela, one of the jewels in Ethiopia's cultural crown. Here you will visit a selection of 12th & 13th Century rock hewn churches, including the Northern Western and Eastern groups. You then visit the ancient stelae and tombs of Axum before ending your journey in Gheralta, seeing some of the most remote, hard to reach churches in the world.

The itinerary includes internal flights with Ethiopian Airlines and local guides / services in each location. This keeps the overall cost down and saves on some long and arduous journeys. If preferred we can quote to include an accompanying tour leader for the whole trip and / or overland travel by 4wd instead of internal flights.

Day-by-day

The following itinerary is designed as a complete tour of the historical and cultural sites of the North's historical Circuit. We have included three days exploring wildlife and landscapes of the Simien Mountains staying in a comfortable mountain lodge. The Simien Mountains are a real highlight in themselves, and add a nice balance to the historical and cultural focus of the itinerary.

Brief Itinerary
Day 1: Arrival & Half Day Addis Ababa Guided Tour
Day 2: Fly Addis - Bahir Dar & Visit The Blue Nile Falls
Day 3: Lake Tana Monasteries
Day 4: Bahir Dar - Gondar. Gondar Castles & Churches
Day 5: Gondar - Simien Mountains
Day 6: Day Walk / Drive In Simien Mountains National Park
Day 7: Day Walk / Drive In Simien Mountains National Park
Day 8: Return To Gondar
Day 9: Fly Gondar - Lalibela. Explore Rock-hewn Churches Of Lalibela
Day 10: Remote Churches Of Lalibela
Day 11: Fly Lalibela - Axum. Explore Ancient Archaeological Sites Of Axum
Day 12: Axum - Hawzien
Day 13: Churches Of The Gheralta Cluster
Day 14: Gheralta - Mekele - Addis. Late Night Flight Back

Full Itinerary
DAY 1: ARRIVAL & HALF DAY ADDIS ABABA GUIDED TOUR
You will be met at the airport and transferred to your central hotel. After a rest and refresh at the hotel, your guide will take you around the highlights of Addis. Depending on time and how you feel after your flight, you can choose to sample some of the best coffee in the world in the Piazza (old town), explore the National Museum and Archaeological Museum (home to the 3.5 million year old remains of Lucy) or explore the largest open air market in Africa.
Meals Included: None included
Accommodation: Addis Regency
Transport (where relevant): Airport transfer

DAY 2: FLY ADDIS - BAHIR DAR & VISIT THE BLUE NILE FALLS
After a morning flight and checking into your accommodation, you will have the afternoon to visit the Blue Nile Falls (40 minutes from Bahir Dar). Although the power of the falls has been subdued by the hydro electric plant, they are still an incredible sight. A lovely circular walk takes you over an ancient bridge built by the Portuguese in the 15th century, passing fantastic viewpoints of the falls, over a rope bridge and then up to top of the falls where you will cross by boat to meet your vehicle.
Meals Included: None included
Accommodation: Kuriftu Lodge
Transport (where relevant): Fly Addis - Bahir Dar

DAY 3: LAKE TANA MONASTERIES
After breakfast you will go for an early morning boat excursion on Lake Tana, the highest and largest lake in Ethiopia and also the source of the Blue Nile. Dotted on its shores and islands are 20 monasteries, most of which were hidden to the outside world until the 1930's. You will visit two examples of monasteries before ending your excursion by passing by the mouth of the Blue Nile. Once you have arrived back, you can enjoy a relaxing lunch on the shore and then spend the afternoon at leisure.
Meals Included: Breakfast and Dinner
Accommodation: Kuriftu Lodge
Transport (where relevant): n/a

DAY 4: BAHIR DAR - GONDAR. GONDAR CASTLES & CHURCHES
This morning will be an early start for the 2-3hr drive to Gondar. Once you have arrived, your guide will take you to explore the fascinating medieval history of Gondar. Your tour will include visiting the Royal Enclosure set in its beautiful gardens, Fasilidas Bath and the fascinating Debre Berhan Selassie Church, renowned for its vivid and striking interior art and arguably one of the finest church interiors in the country.
Meals Included: Breakfast only included
Accommodation: Goha Hotel
Transport (where relevant): Drive Bahir Dar - Gondar, approx. 3hrs

DAY 5: GONDAR - SIMIEN MOUNTAINS
After a relaxed morning, you will drive approx 3 hours to the Simien Lodge, which lays claim to being the highest hotel in Africa. Once you have arrived and settled in, you can enjoy a relaxed afternoon at the lodge, watching the troops of Gelada Baboon and admiring the stunning scenery.
Meals Included: Breakfast only included
Accommodation: Simien Lodge
Transport (where relevant): Drive Gondar - Simien Park Lodge (3-4 hrs)

DAY 6: DAY WALK / DRIVE IN SIMIEN MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Today you will be driven to the Sankaber Camp area, where you can enjoy a guided walk and picnic in the vicinity. Options include walking to the stunning Genbar Falls. Return by vehicle for a relaxed evening at the lodge.
Meals Included: Breakfast only included
Accommodation: Simien Lodge
Transport (where relevant): Drive Simien Lodge - Sankaber Camp

DAY 7: DAY WALK / DRIVE IN SIMIEN MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
After breakfast, you will be driven to Chenek Camp where you will go for a short wildlife walk. Wallia Ibex are most frequently seen in this area of the Park and the views are outstanding. Return to the Lodge for the evening.
Meals Included: Breakfast only included
Accommodation: Simien Lodge
Transport (where relevant):Drive Simien Lodge - Chenek Camp

DAY 8: RETURN TO GONDAR
You will have time for a morning walk before driving back to Gondar in the afternoon
Meals Included: Breakfast only included
Accommodation: Goha Hotel
Transport (where relevant): Drive Simiens - Gondar (3-4 hours)

DAY 9: FLY GONDAR - LALIBELA. EXPLORE ROCK-HEWN CHURCHES OF LALIBELA
Today is an early start for your morning transfer to Gondar airport. Once you have landed, you will be picked up at Lalibela Airport and transferred to your central hotel. Lalibela is world famous for its monolithic rock hewn churches. Carved by hand out of solid rock in the 12th and 13th Centuries and filled with the evocative sound of chanting of monks, this is a deeply spiritual place and quite rightly a UNESCO World Heritage site. You will visit most of the Central churches that Lalibela is so famous for including the Northern Group (containing the Lalibela Cross), The Western Group (Bete Giyorgis) and the Eastern Group.
Meals Included: None included
Accommodation: Tukul Village
Transport (where relevant): Fly Gondar - Lalibela

DAY 10: REMOTE CHURCHES OF LALIBELA
Today is an opportunity to take it a little slower. you can choose to walk or ride a rented mule (small extra cost for the mule) up to Asheton Maryam Church, situated at about 3100 metres. Here you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Lalibela town and the surrounding valleys.
Meals Included: None included
Accommodation: Tukul Village
Transport (where relevant): n/a

DAY 11: FLY LALIBELA - AXUM. EXPLORE ANCIENT ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES OF AXUM
After arriving in Axum and checking into your accommodation, your local guide will show you around the historic and archaeological sites of Axum including the ancient stelae and tombs, some dating to before the birth of Christ, Tsion Maryam Church, the Queen of Sheba’s bath and palace and the museum.
Meals Included: None included
Accommodation: Briana Hotel
Transport (where relevant): Fly Lalibela - Axum

DAY 12: AXUM - HAWZIEN
Today's journey is quite a long one, driving from Axum to Hawzien and the Gheralta Cluster. This Tigray region is home to some of the most remote, hard-to-reach churches, often situated in incredible locations. Some churches involve precipitous climbs and some are unfortunately forbidden to females. Your guide will discuss the options with you and you will stop and explore some en-route.
Meals Included: None included
Accommodation: Gheralta Lodge (subject to availability) or Agoro Lodge
Transport (where relevant): Drive Axum to Hawzien (half day journey)

DAY 13: CHURCHES OF THE GHERALTA CLUSTER
After breakfast you will explore a couple of the interesting churches from the Gheralta cluster recommended to you by your guide. Spend a leisurely evening at Gheralta lodge.
Meals Included: Breakfast included
Accommodation: Gheralta Lodge (subject to availability) or Agoro Lodge
Transport (where relevant):

DAY 14: GHERALTA - MEKELE - ADDIS. LATE NIGHT FLIGHT BACK
You will have a 3 hour transfer to Mekele Airport for your flight back to Addis. Most international flights are in the late evening, so you will have a long afternoon to spend in Addis. We will provide a driver and vehicle for the afternoon. Suggested activities include stocking up on souvenirs, visiting one of the museums or just heading to the Sheraton or Hilton for day access to their pools (extra cost applicable).
Meals Included: Breakfast included
Accommodation: Departure
Transport (where relevant): Drive Hawzien to Mekele (3 hrs). Fly Mekele - Addis. Driver & vehicle provided in Addis

Accommodation


Guide price is based on recommended accommodations. Alternative accommodations and upgrades are available. Please get in touch or click on 'alternatives' below for alternatives and upgrade options.

Addis Regency

Addis Ababa

Our rating

8/10

Price guide

Price rating 3

- Lovely rooms
- Solid mid-range option
- Good value

Kuriftu Lodge

Lake Tana

Our rating

8/10

Price guide

Price rating 4

- Swimming Pool
- Lake-side Lodge
- Spa treatments included

Our rating

5/10

Price guide

Price rating 3

- Fantastic position
- Comfortable rooms
- A little tired

Simien Lodge

Simien Mountains

Our rating

8/10

Price guide

Price rating 4

- Comfortable rooms
- Mountain views
- National park location

Our rating

8/10

Price guide

Price rating 3

- Central location
- Comfortable rooms
- Pleasant gardens
- Good service

Our rating

5/10

Price guide

Price rating 2

- Simple rooms
- Bar area
- Good restaurant

Our rating

9/10

Price guide

Price rating 3

- Breathtaking views
- Traditional buildings
- Mountain range setting

Details

Getting there

Ethiopia’s national airline, Ethiopian Airlines is arguably one of the best in Africa. International services are reliable with good seat pitch, whilst domestic flights are serviced by a brand new fleet of twin props. Ethiopian flies direct from London, Frankfurt, Paris and Rome in Europe. The flight takes around 8 hours. Return flights from London are usually around £500 per person.
Direct outbound flights from London to Addis Ababa: Every Mon, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun
Direct return flights from Addis Ababa to London: Every Wed, Fri, Sat and Sun
Return flights from Addis Ababa to London via Rome: Every Mon and Thu

Price includes

- All guides and transfers and accommodation as detailed in the itinerary
- Entrance fees to museums and national parks and attractions
- Meals where stated (e.g. on trek)
- International flights, visas, tips and incidental expenses are not included

When is best?

The Ethiopian Tourist Board proudly promotes their slogan “13 months of sunshine” to anyone who will listen, but they are not far off the mark. The rainy season in the North is in July and August, but whilst that might stop you attempting a multi-day trek in the Simien Mountains, it won’t really affect you if you are planning on touring the Northern Historical route. The best time to visit the North is in autumn, after the rains when the mountains are full of lush green and the views are unimpeded by haze.

Is it for me?

If you are considering Ethiopia in the first place, you are probably aware that the standard of hotels, road and general comfort is not going to match what you might expect at home. Travelling in Ethiopia is always an adventure and it is incredibly important you come with the right mind-set. The challenges are the lack of luxuries (a reliable hot shower in Ethiopia is a rare thing, even in upmarket hotels), the unique cuisine and occasionally hassle from hawkers (no worst than most tourist destinations). Having said that it also happens to host one of the most unique cultures in the world with a rich cultural heritage and some of the best trekking in the world. You can’t have everything.

This trip is designed as an itinerary for the generalist, with a comfortable balance of historical and cultural sites, a relaxed pace, pleasant day walks in the Simien Mountains and good quality accommodation (for Ethiopia!). If you are very active and enjoy trekking then we recommend you consider this itinerary with a multi-day trek in the Simien Mountains (see here).

What customers are saying after travelling with Tourdust

Average Rating

based on 611 reviews

(4.94/5)

  • We had the most fantastic time and loved the country and its people. The tour worked really well and including the internal flights meant that we could maximise our 2 weeks (if we had of had more time sure the drives would be lovely!) - the pace of it was busy but just right. You really put together a trip which showed us the beauty and culture of the North. I loved all the walking and timket was amazing. The advice just take yourselves and leave everything else at home for timket was perfect as we were free to just enjoy the experience - I have never experienced anything like it. The thing that surprised me about the trip was the variety and how each day was so different. The people were so warm and friendly and children were absolutely enchanting - the contrast of the privilege of children I know here and those living in poverty in Ethiopia is very humbling.

    Having a driver guide worked extremely well - lema was excellent, he really added to our holiday through enabling us to have interaction with local people - he clearly had a way which gained acceptance and thus acceptance of us - for example with a family making injera and farmers threshing. He is a real ambassador for his country and was such a caring guide but also great fun. We always felt safe and he was an excellent driver - even when conditions were not easy.

    As we had local guides everywhere, I think having a driver and a guide plus local guides would have been a bit too much. The local guides were all very good or excellent. They clearly had good relationships with lema and again I think this meant we in turn had a good experience.

    The accommodation was generally very good/ excellent. We actually preferred the guest house we stayed in on the final night in addis to the regency hotel ( cannot remember the name but Stephen took us there - it had more character) I particularly liked fasil lodge as had great atmosphere, and gheralta was fantastic. I also liked lalibela lodge. I thought Kuriftu lodge was good but slightly impersonal.

    My only criticism about whole trip really is about simien lodge - As you know the cost of food and drink at the lodge is inflated - I completely understand that the location would attract a premium but compared to everywhere else it is so over-inflated. I have seen their response on trip advisor to anyone who raises this - basically you a penny pinching tourist who expects a "cheap" trip and do not want to contribute to the country ( I do not think we fall into this category!) the main thing I objected to was only having the "choice" of a $18 buffet of food that was not of great quality as well very inflated prices for drinks

    However, You did warn us and i know I wanted to stay in the park so this is not a complaint about tour dust or itinerary at all - I realise that they have a monopoly so unlikely to change but wonder if agents have any more sway in feedback than individuals. It is a shame as the lodge is in great location and the rooms, solar heating etc are all good.

    I would contrast the simien lodge with the gheralta lodge which likewise has a captive audience but provides food of much higher quality and drinks at reasonable hotel prices - I know Kate would have preferred local food but I was very happy to have good Italian food in such a lovely place. It was the perfect place to spend our last couple of days.

    Thanks for organising such a great holiday - I would highly recommend tour dust to anyone travelling to the countries you cover and I am promoting ethiopia as holiday destination at every opportunity!

    Missingruth moesby reviewing Classic Northern Historical Circuit on 05 February 2015

  • Just to confirm that we returned from Ethiopia today, as planned, and that all went well - extremely well indeed with our trip. In due course we will share with you fuller reflections... Meanwhile, many thanks to you and staff at TourDust for helping to arrange a very memorable trip.

    MissingJames Copestake reviewing Classic Northern Historical Circuit on 03 June 2014

  • Our trip was excellent. Thank you! We were particularly impressed with the way it all worked seamlessly: someone was at each arrival point to meet us (or Alex was on the end of the phone to tell us what to do) or there was a phone message at Reception for when to expect someone.

    The Jerusalem Hotel in Lalibela is not the same standard as Tukul Villages but it was OK for one night & we had plenty of warning. Lalibela at Christmas is pretty manic: full to bursting!

    I must say that Alex looked after us well. He came to see us in Gondar to make sure everything was in place for the Simiens Trek & that we knew what to expect. When we got back after it, there he was again! Small but highly-valued pieces of customer care, evident again when he spoke to drivers while we were travelling.

    All the staff who worked with us were of high quality, especially drivers and guides. Two who stood out were Younus, our driver both times we were in Addis Ababa, who we felt went beyond the call of duty & made our time there enjoyable - our last evening when waiting for a 2 a.m. flight could have been a drag, was in fact absolutely fine because of his suggestions (the Via Via cafe for dinner & then Mama's Kitchen for some music) and company.

    The Simiens Trek was outstanding. Spectacular scenery, challenging at times, full of interest. Key to making it so was Dereje Gedamu who is a wonderful guide: we felt privileged to have him. he was ably assisted by the other staff & when our first, excellent chef had to leave at short notice to visit his mother in hospital, a replacement was found immediately (at Chenek!) who fed us to the same high standard. It was all a great experience that we will be talking about for a long time.

    We were all pleased to have selected the 8 day option (& were not at all jealous of the peak-baggers heading for Ras Dashen). The second half of the trek was a good contrast to the high altitude section in the National Park's heartland as we descended through more intensively cultivated and populated areas, down steeply to the river and then back up past wonderful rock formations towards Mulit and out to the road at Adi Arkaye. It was full of interest and we were pleased to be pretty much on our own, rather than with the crowds at Geech & Chenek.

    By comparison, the TESFA trek was rather tame, although an interesting comparison to see a more pastoral landscape and less remote villages. We had another good guide & enjoyed the lunch & evening stops, and the "loos with a view".

    Pleased as we were that we had opted to drive from Bahir Dar to Lalibela, we had mixed feelings about driving the rough Gashena-Lalibela road three times - the starting and finishing points for the TESFA trek were just beyond Gashena. In 3 years when the road is complete this point may become academic, but meanwhile - if anyone else wants to do the same thing - it would be better for them to drive from Bahir Dar to Gashena, meet the TESFA crew there, do the trek & then continue to Lalibela. I am sure that TESFA could look after any extra baggage that people did not want on the trek.

    One other point about the TESFA trek: we were not aware that there are several grades offered. I think we did the easiest and might well have preferred something more challenging so perhaps you could clarify the options available.

    Only one other critical comment: we were underwhelmed by the Mayleko Lodge near Gondar airport. It was indeed welcome to have somewhere peaceful to return to after the trek, the rooms are nice & a couple of us enjoyed a "refreshing" swim, but on the other hand the restaurant was pretty mediocre and slow: we might have preferred to be out in the town.

    Apart from that it was all good! A glimpse of Addis and another of Gondar; trekking with some R&R in Bahir Dar with its different scenery and history, ending with the religious fervour at Lalibela. A great holiday.

    MissingGordon Parker reviewing Simien Mountains Trek & Northern Highlights on 09 February 2016

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Alternative Itineraries

Our itineraries are carefully designed by our experienced travel designers based on years of experience and customer feedback. For a custom itinerary tailored to you, please enquire giving as much detail as possible on your brief.

Perfect for those short on time, combines the classic 5 day Simiens trek with the cultural highlights of Gondar & Lalibella

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'From Price' is the average per person price for ground arrangements for two people sharing.

Flights are typically an additional $718 per person economy class from London

Experience the incredible cultures of the Konso, Mursi and Turmi people on this responsible private 12 Day Lower Omo Valley tour

Tailor-made 9 - 21 days

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'From Price' is the average per person price for ground arrangements for two people sharing.

Flights are typically an additional $718 per person economy class from London

Combines a 5 day Simien Mountain trek with a full tour of the Northern Circuit, including the remote Gheralta Cluster churches.

Tailor-made 15 days

Adults from $3,229 pp plus flights

'From Price' is the average per person price for ground arrangements for two people sharing.

Flights are typically an additional $718 per person economy class from London

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